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Helen Ryland


Thesis Information

  • PhD: Philosophy

  • Thesis Title: On the margins: Personhood and moral status in marginal cases of human rights.
  • Thesis Description: 

    The problem of marginal cases occurs because in our attempts to demarcate between those who have human rights and those who do not, there are marginal cases – such as children and nonhuman animals – who do not fit in either category. This is typically because most human rights theories ground human rights in an ethically substantive concept of personhood – all and only persons have human rights. Any agent who does not automatically meet some stated criteria of personhood is thus a problematic marginal cases whose moral rights status is in question.

    My thesis primarily involves identifying the moral status of these ‘marginal’ persons (e.g. children, animals, etc.) in order to determine what rights (if any) they could possess, and consequently how we should treat marginal persons. I argue that current research into marginal cases of human rights is problematic as it a) does not consider the full complement of potential marginal persons and b) grounds human rights in a binary notion of personhood which fails to grant an appropriate amount of moral protection to the marginal cases. In response, my research aims to do three main things. Firstly, provide a novel, extended taxonomy of marginal cases which can be divided into three main groups: atypical humans, non-humans, and post/transhumans. Secondly, present the first systematic defence of a scalar degrees of personhood framework. I argue that this scalar conception of personhood can replace problematic binary personhood to ground human rights. And thirdly, use this scalar personhood framework to allow for some marginal cases to have a degree of personhood and some human rights. 

  • Supervisory Team: Jussi Suikkanen (UoB), Jeremy Williams (UoB) and Heather Widdows (UoB).

 

Other Research Interests

  • Human Rights.
  • Feminist Philosophy.
  • Ethics.
  • Bioethics.
  • Moral Philosophy.
  • Legal Philosophy.
  • Cyber/Virtual Ethics.
  • Philosophy of fiction/aesthetics.
  • Personal Identity/Personhood.
  • Metaphysics.
  • Epistemology.
  • Philosophy of Language.
  • Philosophy of Mind.
  • Philosophy of Psychiatry/ Philosophy of Cognitive Science.

Other Activities

Publications

  • (2019): 'Getting away with murder: why virtual murder in MMORPGs can be wrong on Kantian grounds', Ethics and Information Technology 21(2), 105-115.

Public Engagement and Organisation

  • (March 2019): Co-organiser for Minorities and Philosophy (MAP UK) Birmingham branch.
  • (January 2019): Organising Committee for 'Philosophy in Progress', University of Nottingham. 
  • (November 2018): Organising Committee for 'Consent and the epistemology of sexual violence', a Women* in Philosophy event, University of Birmingham. 
  • (October 2018): 'Now you see me: the phenomenon of marginalised invisibility' - A blog post for Minorities and Philosophy UK: Blog URL
  • (September 2018 - Present): PhD rep, Women* In Philosophy, University of Birmingham.
  • (August 2018): 'Developing Rights in a Developing World'- A blog post for the University of Birmingham's Imperfect Cognitions blog: Blog URL
  • (July 2018):  Lead applicant/organiser for 'Human Rights in the 21st Century: Developing rights in a developing world' CDF conference, University of Birmingham.
  • (June 2018): Organising Committee for the 2nd annual Birmingham-Nottingham-Warwick Graduate Conference, University of Nottingham.
  • (May 2018): Organising Committee for the M3C Research Festival, Maple House, Birmingham. 
  • (March 2018 - March 2019): Conference Coordinator for the British Postgraduate Philosophy Association (BPPA).
  • (November 2017 - Present): Minorities and Philosophy (MAP UK) mentor.
  • (November 2017): Postgraduate Ambassador for Philosophy, Postgraduate Open Day, University of Birmingham.
  • (March 2017): Postgraduate Ambassador for Philosophy, Postgraduate Open Day, University of Birmingham.
  • (November 2016): Postgraduate Ambassador for Philosophy, Postgraduate Open Day, University of Birmingham.

Conference Presentations

  • (June 2019): Personhood 2.0: Back to the drawing board (poster), Research Poster Conference, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (June 2019): Use some body: embodiment and morality in virtual worlds, Modern and Contemporary Forum (MAC) Symposium, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (May 2019): Use some body: embodiment and morality in virtual worlds, The Fifth Annual Conference for the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (May 2019): Personhood 2.0: Back to the drawing board (poster), Midlands3Cities Research Festival, Maple House, Birmingham.
  • (May 2019): Personhood 2.0: Back to the drawing board, Postgraduate seminar, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (April 2019): Personhood 2.0: Back to the drawing board, Postgraduate seminar, University of Manchester (UK)
  • (January 2019): Robots, emotions, and epistemic rational assessability, written and presented with Matilde Aliffi, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Computation Seminar, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (December 2018): Robots, emotions, and epistemic rational assessability, written and presented with Matilde Aliffi, Postgraduate Seminar, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (June 2018): On Human Wrongs: How James Griffin's solution to the problem of marginal cases generates a moral dilemma, REAPP Graduate and Early Careers Conference, University of Reading (UK)
  • (March 2018): On Human Wrongs: How James Griffin's solution to the problem of marginal cases generates a moral dilemma, Postgraduate Seminar, University of Birmingham (UK)
  • (February 2018):On Human Wrongs: How James Griffin's solution to the problem of marginal cases generates a moral dilemma, Warwick Graduate Conference in Political and Legal Theory, University of Warwick (UK).
  • (July 2017): Getting away with murder: why virtual murder is deontologically wrong (Version 3), Video Games and Virtual Ethics Conference, Senate House, London (UK).
  • (June 2017): Aliens, apes, and avatars: Examining marginal cases of human rights, Research Poster Conference, University of Birmingham, (UK).
  • (May 2017): Considering the margins: a taxonomy of marginal cases of human rights, Human Rights Challenges in the 21st Century, Birmingham City University (UK).
  • (November 2016): Getting away with murder: why virtual murder is deontologically wrong (Version 2), Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference, University of Oxford (UK).
  • (October 2016): Getting away with murder: why virtual murder is deontologically wrong (Version 1), Postgraduate Seminar, University of Birmingham (UK).
  • (September 2016): Getting away with murder: why virtual murder is deontologically wrong (Version 1), British Postgraduate Philosophy Association (BPPA) Conference, University of Reading (UK).

Teaching

  • (January 2018 - March 2018): Teaching Associate, Problems of Philosophy, University of Birmingham (UK).
  • (September 2017- December 2017): Teaching Associate, Ethics, University of Birmingham (UK).
  • (September 2016 - March 2017): Teaching Associate, Problems of Philosophy, University of Birmingham (UK).
  • (2016): A level Mentor, The Sixth Form College Solihull (UK).
  • (2011 - 2017): Private Tutor, First Tutors (Academic), Solihull (UK).

Other Roles

  • (February 2019): Research assistant/analyst, the European Commission. Analysed public consultation comments on draft AI ethics guidelines published by The High Level Group on Artificial Intelligence for the European Commission (18th December 2018). 
  • (June 2018 - November 2018): Research assistant for Professor Karen Yeung on The Council of Europe project: 'A study on the concept of responsibility for AI decision-making systems within a human rights framework'.

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